Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Wilmington helps tens of thousands of people in Delaware and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland every year to obtain basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, counseling, and maternity services.
Fritz Jones, Catholic Charities’ director of program operations, says about 80,000 people are helped each year through Catholic Charities’ programs without regard to their religion, race, sex or national origin.
That means “about one out of every 12 people” in the diocese are aided by Catholic Charities each year, Jones said. “When we were in the middle of the recession, we were close to serving 100,000 (people a year).”
That’s a lot of people helped by a dedicated staff of about 90 full-timers, plus part-time workers and seasonal employees, Jones said.
Catholic Charities benefits each year from contributions to the Annual Catholic Appeal.
In addition to Catholic Charities, the Appeal helps more than 30 charitable, pastoral and educational diocesan ministries.
“Commitment Weekend” is planned from April 25-26 when in-pew solicitation will be conducted at parish Masses. Parishioners will be invited to support the Appeal by pledging a financial commitment conducive to their household budget.
Catholic Charities’ work to restore the well-being of the needy and afflicted is a perfect reflection of this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal theme — Seeing Christ in the Faces of Others. That goal is reflected every day in how Catholic Charities assists the people who come to its offices looking for help, said Jones.
“I learned that my first day at Catholic Charities 42 years ago,” Jones said.
“When we interview staff, when we supervise our staff, we talk about remembering to always see the face of Christ in the client who is sitting across the table from them,” Jones said. That ability is what makes social services provided by Catholic Charities different, he added.
Many people are reluctant even to ask for directions, Jones noted. “Think about the client who knocks on the door and says, ‘I don’t have any food.’ That’s why seeing the face of Christ is so important. We are the privileged ones to serve them, not the other way around.”
Catholic Charities presents many doors for clients to enter: physical ones in Wilmington, Newark, Dover, Georgetown, and Milton and also in Princess Anne, Md. There are also entry doors to services for substance abuse support, basic needs, residence for pregnant homeless women, behavioral health services, emergency shelter, alcohol and drug counseling, food programs, community counseling services, a diaper bank, food assistance, HIV services, immigration services, retirement housing for low-income seniors, energy cost assistance, pregnancy counseling and thrift services.
When Catholic Charities clients first come through the door, Jones said, they see a case manager who discusses why the person needs help, how the crisis happened, and how the problem can be avoided in the future. Case managers also discuss other ways Charities might be able to assist the new client.
“You may find somebody who may be behind in their rent but they also don’t have much food in their kitchen,” Jones said. “They don’t have any bedding for their grandkids that they’re taking care of now, let alone the clothing that they need for them. They may have a mental health issue, depression or anxiety. They may qualify for our LIHEAP (Low Income Home Emergency Assistance Program) that helps pay their winter heating bill.
“All of a sudden, the client walks out with an array of things. They can get a voucher to our Thrift Store, clothing and a mattress. We can hook them up with a clinician to get them working on their issue. We can work with them to be part of our food distribution programs that we have in all our primary service locations — New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties in Delaware and Princes Anne in Maryland.
The recent deaths of four homeless people, who were living in the woods near Stanton, highlighted the ongoing need for shelter for the poor and outcasts in the state and the nation.
“It’s not against the law to be homeless,” Jones noted. But Catholic Charities can help when people ask for assistance and shelter.
Federal money from the Housing and Urban Development Agency provides a program administered by Catholic Charities called HEARTH — Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing, Jones said.
“People on the verge of being evicted or of losing their home because their utilities are being turned off or because they’re behind in their rent can come to us and we’re able to assist them,” through a program called Homeless Prevention.
Another “door” the homeless can use to enter Catholic Charities is through the “Rapid Rehousing” program that grants funds to help agencies that provide shelter and care for homeless. Delaware and Maryland agencies assign some of those cases to Catholic Charities, Jones said.
“We actually only do emergency rehousing in Kent and Sussex Counties and Princess Anne in Maryland because we don’t have funding in New Castle County,” he said. “That funding is intended to get someone who is homeless out of a car and off the street into a more appropriate living environment. Then you provide appropriate case management to assist them.
“That’s tough work” for case managers at times, Jones said. “Some of the folks who are presented with that opportunity reject it. … They don’t see themselves being able to succeed and maintain the housing so [they think], ‘why bother?’ Those tend to be your hardcore folks.
“Now, one of the things we have going for us in Sussex County,” Jones said, “is our 12-bed shelter in Milton, Casa San Francisco. Those folks we also assist in finding permanent housing.”
Homelessness in the diocese, according to recent studies, Jones said, has been “a pretty static number. It’s not gone up.” But “we’re a recession away from the homeless numbers going through the roof, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
“Our [potential] homeless folks are people who are one paycheck away from losing their housing. You hear a lot about the three percent unemployment rate but people work two or three jobs. They’re underemployed. They’re not making a livable wage and they’re literally one disaster away from potentially being homeless.”
Those precarious conditions for many people are the reason Catholic Charities uses a case management approach to helping clients, Jones said. Catholic Charities works with its clients to “learn to manage their lives a little better. Some clients do a really good job.”
To make sure the Charities office does a good job, every one of the thousands of clients it assists each year receives a survey. Among the survey questions, the clients are always asked if they were treated with dignity and respect, Jones said.
“We do well on that (question),” Jones said. “And we keep it on there because that’s what we’re telling the staff is important.”
Another question for clients is if they received a list of all the services Catholic Charities offers.
While Catholic Charities’ clients always receive a list of the many services it provides, Jones said a constant challenge is letting the people of our diocese know what the agency can do for those in need.
“I don’t think the average Catholic understands the depth and breadth of the work we provide,” Jones said. “That’s a constant challenge for us.”
Another challenge for Charities is letting the community know its services aren’t only for Catholics. And you don’t have to be Catholic to work for Catholic Charities. Case in point, Jones, and his wife, Donna, who works for the diocesan Human Resources office, are both Presbyterian.
Jones, who is from Newark, started at Catholic Charities in 1978 as a child-care counselor in a group home for children the agency ran until that model of care changed to assisting children in their home environments. In more than 40 years, he has seen Catholic Charities growth in services and ways to help the needy.
“Our mission has never changed,” Jones said. “We always serve the most vulnerable in our community. We have just learned to do it in different ways.”
It’s been a mission journey for Jones overseeing many aspects of Catholic Charities. Working with and for the poor and afflicted results in many emotional highs and lows, Jones said. A memorable victory for the agency, he recalled, involved a young woman who came to Catholic Charities as a client at Bayard House, a residential maternity home for homeless, pregnant women in Wilmington.
“She was a heroin addict and she was in prison and pregnant,” Jones recalled. “So they dismissed her from prison to Bayard House. The staff was working with her and she was doing very well. However, she did a random drug screening and failed it. So her bail was revoked and she was put back in Baylor (Women’s Correctional Institution).”
“The staff came and said, ‘What do we do? We want her back.’”
So the Bayard House program manager and another staff member went to the girl’s hearing and asked to talk to the judge. At the hearing, Jones said, the Bayard manager told the judge, “We want her back. She made a mistake, but she was doing well.”
That’s when the girl fell apart, Jones said. “She was crying to the point the judge gave a 10-minute recess.”
When the hearing resumed the judged asked the Catholic Charities client, “Why did you react that way?”
“It’s the only time in my life anybody gave me a second chance,” she replied. The judge granted her return to Bayard House.
“That’s what I’m most proud of,” Jones said. “Whether we give clients three chances or eight, to me … that’s what we’re all about. Seeing the faces of Christ? I’m most proud of being part of an organization that gives people those chances.”
What happened to that Bayard House client who got a second chance?
“She’s doing very well now,” Jones said. “The staff that worked with her recently ran into her. She’s a mom and her kids are tweens.”
For more information on the programs at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Wilmington, visit ccwilm.org.
For more information on programs in the diocese helped by the Annual Catholic Appeal, contact Deborah Fols, Director of the Development Office, at 302-573-3120 or firstname.lastname@example.org.